Why "71º & Sunny?"

I consider 71º to be the perfect temperature. Not too cold and not too hot. I also love perfect sunny days. The vast majority of days are not 71º & Sunny and yet, all days were created by God's hand and they are still gifts, even if they don't fit my ridiculous definition of perfection. My struggle with OCD has at times imprisoned me in an impossible attempt to achieve perfection. I'm now learning to love all kinds of days that don't even come close to 71º & Sunny.

Please leave me a comment below. I really want to know what you are thinking!

Monday, July 21, 2014

ERP: An Absolute Necessity

The mere thought of Exposure and Response Prevention (ERP) is terrifying to most OCD sufferers. I first learned about ERP in 1996, but I avoided it until my life fell apart (for the second time) in 2009. Thirteen years. I wasted thirteen years of my life. I can honestly say that learning how to do ERP (under the guidance of an expert Cognitive Behavioral Therapist) was one of the best decisions I have ever made. It is a skill that I will now have with me forever. Literally changed my life.

A lot of anxiety sufferers desperately wish for a way around ERP. I know I sure did! To my knowledge, there just isn't one. At least not at this point in time. So, until something else comes around, CBT/ERP is the best way to go. Considering its necessity to recovery from anxiety disorders, maybe we need to reframe how we look at ERP. My friend Janet, of "ocdtalk," published a truly excellent post on ERP that I highly recommend. It may just change how you look at ERP.

Wednesday, July 16, 2014

Back On The Couch

I'm back in therapy. And contrary to the title of my post, I don't actually lay down on a couch in session. It's probably a good thing, because I'm pretty certain I would not be able to stay awake for very long in that position!

I like to think of this as CBT, Part Deux. While I do have a reasonable amount of OCD left in my life, it is not the reason I've sought out help again. In fact, I feel like it is due to the success of my past treatment that I am finally in this particular head space. I've had enough OCD cobwebs cleared out, that it has made room for other longstanding issues to bubble to the surface, namely my decades old struggle with depression. I can recall living with bouts of depression since I was a teenager. It has ebbed and flowed throughout my life like a slow moving roller coaster. A lot of the time, it simply simmers at a low boil in the background, not presenting any major life problems per se, but it is active just enough to keep me from moving forward. However, over the past year, on most days, it takes tremendous effort to get out of bed. Some days, I cannot muster the energy to do it at all.

I want to be clear and state that I am okay. It's not that deep, harrowing type of depression. I know what that feels like, and I thank God that is not where I am. I'm just running on low to no energy, and well, the world seems like differing shades of gray and blah. I know what the culprit is, so I'm dealing with it, rather than ignoring it. Though, frankly, I would prefer to ignore it.

I'm realizing that my self image is probably a big factor behind my depression. I struggle terribly with feeling unloveable and unworthy, and with feeling desperate for the approval of others or, rather, the approval of every human being I ever cross paths with. However, I'm very passionate about certain subjects, and I often feel like I must speak up about things, and yet, this causes me so much angst. This is because I fear alienating others when doing this. It's a terrible inward battle. I feel like I'm failing to serve God and/or protect others if I don't speak up, but then I worry that I'm offending others if I do. Of course, I try to be tactful and kind when speaking up, but still. So what am I to do? Care less? Go along to get along? That does not seem right. And yet, my psychologist has told me that I act like I'm responsible for helping and saving everyone around me. And clearly I'm not. Ugh. Rock and a hard place.

Logically, I know that as a Christ follower, my worth is found only in the truth that I am created, and loved, by God. Yet . . . my heart doesn't quite seem to receive that message. I'm not sure it ever truly did.

I'm also discovering that some cognitive distortions are creeping back into my thinking, so my psychologist is working with me to start cognitively restructuring my thoughts away from automatically negative territory. In fact, she told me that we are working on a higher plane of restructuring now, than when I was being treated for the OCD. I view that as a positive thing, as it means that I did actually understand and absorb the previous CBT treatment I received.

While I know that spilling one's most private struggles and turmoils is not something that everyone is comfortable with, I have found it to be quite therapeutic and cathartic to share this. I lived with deep, dark secrets of my illness for so many years that I never want to return to that. On that note, thanks for listening.

Monday, July 7, 2014

The Gift Of Being Kind To Yourself

I'm sure I've talked about this more than once before, but it was so critical to my recovery that I feel it needs to be re-stated. Again and again.

Being nice to yourself. Letting yourself off the hook. Treating yourself with kindness. Whatever you want to call it, I'm referring to treating yourself in a way that is intentionally positive and uplifting.

Guilt and shame are good things if they bring sin (anything that separates us from God) to our awareness, and if they motivate us to repent (change our ways). However, I believe that beyond that, guilt and shame are no longer useful and that Satan (the devil, the evil one, pick your favorite title) can step in and use them to torment us with thoughts of how "bad" we are. Hey, he's not referred to as the "accuser" in the Bible for nothing! For the majority of my life, I carried guilt and shame around like I was a card carrying member of the "Beat Yourself Up Club." My perfectionism taunted me and convinced me that I absolutely had to be hard on myself, or else I would behave even worse than I thought I was already.

Finally, one day, after discussing this problem for what seemed like the millionth time over a million sessions, my psychologist asked me a question. "OK, so you are hard on yourself now. Does it help you to live and behave the way you want to live, or how you think you should live?" I thought about it for a minute and that's when it hit me. I just knew that the answer was a big, fat NO. I realized that what I was doing was obviously not working. And of course, I also knew that the definition of insanity is doing the same thing over and over again, but expecting a different result. So right then and there, I decided to be nicer to myself. I figured that I had nothing to lose by trying it. It took some practice, but over time I started to talk differently to myself. Whenever I made a mistake, or sinned, I would only say to myself the same types of things that I would say to a friend who was in the same situation. Of course, if I had really done something wrong, I would apologize or make amends to the offended party, but beyond that, I made an effort to speak nicely to, and think nicely about, myself. Whether I felt that I deserved it or not.

Something strange started to happen after that. I actually felt better. Then I found it easier to behave in the ways that I wanted to behave, or how I felt I should behave. And even sweeter? Because I became less critical of myself, I found that I became less critical of others too. It had never occurred to me that the two were related.

This was one of the very best things I learned in therapy. It literally changed my life. Now, I am counting on God's grace and forgiveness like never before. I'm having to trust that He means what He says when He says I'm forgiven. If He can forgive me, then who am I to withhold forgiveness? I have not given myself a license to sin, but I have given myself a license to be the only thing I can be: human.

If we confess our sins, He is faithful and just to forgive us our sins and to cleanse us from all unrighteousness.                                                                                   1 John 1:9 ESV

Sunday, June 29, 2014

Fear = Lies

Recently, Jon Acuff, a witty and often funny, Christian writer and blogger, posted this on his Facebook page:

The number of people who have their lives perfectly figured out = "The entire population of the planet minus me." A lie fear tells me often.

I love this, because if you read a lot of Jon's stuff, it's easy to think he has it all together. Yet, very often, he will whip up little gems like this about fear. Looks can be quite deceiving, can't they?

Wednesday, June 25, 2014

Pictures From The Walk

On your marks . . .
The 1 Million Steps 4 OCD Walk that took place on June 7th was great fun! What freedom to be able to walk around openly with my family and talk about OCD without any feeling of embarrassment or stigma. I wish that for everyone suffering from mental illness.

The walk took place around the
beautiful Jamaica Pond in Boston.
It was a picture perfect day.
A sea of neon green.

Me, Jim, and Mom & Dad. My son was there
too - he took the pic. I have an
AWESOME supportive family!
My biggest supporter.
Mon amour.

Friday, June 20, 2014

Goodbye Sweet Anna

Oh that face!
Two days ago, we said goodbye to our precious fur baby, Anna. She has been a part of our lives for almost exactly 16 years.

She had such a spunky personality. The vet always knew she was really sick if she didn't fight them. Ha! That's my girl! She absolutely hated when I sang. She would often mew this really weird sound, and literally attack me if I didn't stop. But she had no problem when Jim played electric guitar. Guess that doesn't say much for my singing.

She could also be a little cuddle bug. If you stayed really still, she would sleep on you for hours. Jim moves around too much, so I was usually the lap of choice. Oh and did she purr! She was a purr machine. Jim and I always joked that she was like a living, breathing, teddy bear. Her fur was as soft as silk. It felt just like rabbit fur and smelled so sweet. She was especially beautiful and I can't tell you how many advertisements we saw through the years with pictures of cats that looked exactly like our girl. Many a burly workman would step in to our house and simply melt at the sight of her. It was quite comical at times.

We had to get a king sized bed
because she was such a bed hog!
Now she's gone, and we are so incredibly sad. The house feels really empty without her. We built this house 16 years ago, and she joined our family two months after we moved in. So this is her house. It's always been her house. I keep thinking I hear her, or feel her jumping onto the bed. Her food bowls are gone and the spot where she used to sit on her little, fluffy, white mat in the dining room is empty. Honestly, my heart is broken. It feels a little over dramatic to be this upset about a pet, but there you have it.

Pain stinks. Plain and simple. Those of us with OCD and anxiety disorders tend to specialize in running away from pain. All my compulsions and avoidance were just attempts to escape pain. I don't think you can escape pain, though. I think you can maybe delay it, but eventually it catches up to you. You can even try and cut yourself off from feeling, in order to avoid pain, but then you can't feel joy either.

It is incredibly tempting to shut down emotionally, and make the decision to not get another pet. A friend (who also lost a fur baby not so long ago) recently joked, "they don't tell you that it never ends well." It made me laugh, but it made me think too. My friend was right. Odds are, I will outlive any next pet that I get. And I will be here in this sadness all over again. But then, I would miss out on a decade or more of unconditional furry love and licks. I would miss out on the opportunity to care for one of God's creatures, and even the opportunity to fight contamination OCD, as pets certainly bring all kinds of dirt/germ challenges with them. Essentially, I would miss an opportunity to feel some happiness and more fullness to my life.

You know that Tennyson quote, "'Tis better to have loved and lost, than never to have loved at all?" I think there is a lot of truth to it. In the long run, the pain is worth it.

Goodnight my precious girl. It's been 16 years of joy.